Review of Carnage

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Two sets of parents sit down for a meeting after their sons are involved in a fight. As the night progresses,the boys' childish behavior throws the evening into chaos.
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Movie Review: "Carnage"
Rating: R
Length: 80 minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2011
Genre: Comedy/Drama

"Carnage" is a tale of civility gone wrong in the upper social circles of Brooklyn. Based on a play by Yasmina Reza, the film version is directed by Roman Polanski, who chooses to stay true to the roots of the story. The film gives audiences a similar experience to the one they would find on the stage. It is a fine movie with acting performances that make this an entertaining and intriguing experience.

The film begins with two young boys, Zachary Cowan (Elvis Polanski) and Ethan Longstreet (Eliot Berger) fighting after an argument. Ethan walks away from the fight with a missing tooth, which alarms his wealthy parents: Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly). Penelope insists that the best way to solve the problem between the two boys is to invite Ethan's parents over to discuss the incident in a civil manner. Soon, Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) are at the Longstreet's apartment to talk about what happened between their respective sons. It is supposed to be a quick meeting between wealthy and respected families, but it turns into a verbal standoff.

Each parent in the film has a specific character flaw that reveals itself as the story moves along. Jodie Foster plays Penelope Longstreet as an uptight liberal who believes in personal rights and justices, no matter how small. This belief is what leads to the ill-fated meeting between families, as she is the one who invites the Cowans to the house. Her husband, Michael, is played by John C. Reilly as a kind of pushover. He tries so hard to be as accommodating as possible but ends up risking being run over by his pushy wife and the Cowan family.

Meanwhile, the Cowans are just as much of a mess as the Longstreets. Nancy walks into the apartment a nervous wreck. Kate Winslet plays her with just the right amount of neurotic energy, leading to the first major confrontation between the families when she throws up after eating a piece of Penelope's recently baked pie. Her husband, Alan, is so obsessed with his phone and his work that he keeps taking phone calls in the middle of conversations. All of this leads to a highly entertaining personality clash.

Once the two families begin their clash, the movie feels like a play. Polanski, who is known to put his personal stamp on his films, seems to stand out of the way of the actors as they do their thing. The film itself is a character study, and it lives and dies on the strength of its players. Everyone here is bringing their best to the film, and it shows. While a film with four previous Oscar nominees is expected to provide great acting, Polanski chose his actors to play parts that often go against type. This, in turn, leads to a highly entertaining, albeit surprising, performance from several of the actors.

Jodie Foster especially plays against type. Best known for playing likable characters, her role as Penelope is so far removed from what she is known for, it may come across as a shock to audiences well-versed in her work. Meanwhile, Kate Winslet plays Nancy with nervous abandon, but her role is overshadowed by Foster. However, both manage to give the impression of civil individuals who refuse to take any responsibility for their sons or the ensuing family argument.

Christoph Waltz is outstanding as Alan. His constant phone interruptions cut the tension, and his obliviousness to his own behavior is comical. It is very different from his work in "Inglourious Basterds," and audiences are richer for it. In the other corner, John C. Reilly's character Michael sees the most change out of everyone. While at first he appears unassuming, he has the biggest change in personality of anyone in the film.

Ultimately, "Carnage" is a film about manners in high society. Both of these families have everything, and they truly believe they can change anyone through civility. While the initial incident between their respective sons has nothing to do with them, both families are so oblivious to their own faults that they blindly place blame on one another without taking an ounce of responsibility.

"Carnage" is a wonderful film, with great acting. It has the feel of a play, which makes sense considering its origins. This may be a negative to some audiences who want a little more action in their films. But, for those who love great acting, this film is an absolute treat.